Well, we're just about done. There are a lot of loose ends, a lot of questions, but we've been able to take a close look at the text and we find that it holds a lot more strangeness than we thought when we first read it so many years ago. There's a lot more to the story in the module, and probably a lot more about its publication, than meets the eye.
If nothing else, I believe that by deconstructing the text, we perhaps have more insight into Mr. Gygax's working process. I believe that some of the 'overlay', notably the parallels of Tharizdun and the Elder Elemental God are caused by his process - which seems to utilize a tremendous wealth of symbols in a single, vast metaphorical 'cauldron'. Dipping into the same cauldron of ideas, it makes sense that there would be some overlay - particularly given that so much of the suggestive symbolism is drawn from his personal hierarchy and imagination. It is probably akin to method acting, drawing on personal and remembered imagery and sensations to create new synthesis. Aside from seeing modules as a specialized literary format, Mr. Gygax may have used a kind of 'method writing' in many of them. None of these posts were meant to suggest that Mr. Gygax deliberately added details for nothing - I think he probably had a very visual imagination and could call upon very detailed sequences and locations.There is genius at work in these texts - it would be a challenge for anyone to create these environments in a timely way, and given the release dates of general module history, it's a testament to his abilities as a writer to be able to create such robust worlds so quickly. Later in this post I'll show you just how precise is talent, and his humor, really are.
The 'literary format' that I refer to above merits further thought and discussion. A novel, or short story is a written format holding content, and the content holds a story, and the story contains events. A module is similar, but the events 'occur' at your game table. The story is delivered to the reader in pieces that 'come together' when we play a game session. This format may never be 'recognized' in literary circles, but it is responsible for a great many game sessions.
Afterwords are somewhat like endings, but let me suggest that all of this is merely a beginning. It is time to 'unretire' these 'cold texts'. Instead of giving them a proper burial because of their age, or paying our respects, I think a different destiny is appropriate: it's time for them to 'go to seed'. And it is time for us to take its seeds and adapt them to our campaigns. Take the wilderness of the Yatils. Take the Temple and its 'Sith'-like Cult. Take the Black Cyst. Take Tharizdun. Just... take them farther.
I'll confess to being unhappy with 'Greyhawk Canon' in the hands of publishers, and instead find a lot more comfort in the resources available due to the work of hobbyists. A web search for 'greyhawk' will take you to an amazing amount of material. Of particular note is the work of Mr. Bloch, and in the right sidebar section of free downloads of his website, there's a link called Greyhawk Lore Project. It's a very large plain text file that provides a great deal of insight regarding this and other adventures in the original Greyhawk campaign. If there could be such a thing as a required reading list, it would be at the top. It gives a glimpse into how Gygax, Kuntz and others played, how the campaign flowed, and it seemed very fluid and a great deal of fun - far removed from anything overly packaged, canned, or over-written works that certain large companies have produced.
Mr. Bloch's Lore really inspired me in the best way possible, and it remains the best and most positive reason for these posts.
It proves that, aside from some extremely promising independent publishers, the future of the game remains in your hands as a hobbyist. At no time should 'official canon' should get in the way of the creative ideas or modifications to this or any other module, if it will help achieve the goal: a great game. Even the best written module is still just a 'preparatory tool' to the real prize: great gaming.
The negative, angry reason for these posts would be the accusation that the Black Cyst is anti-climactic. Even now, after weeks of looking at this text almost every day, I'm not sure why a simple criticism should merit a whole series of posts. I can appreciate being critical of classics - we found a number of significant publishing 'flaws' in WG4 - but there was something about the older way of playing the game that made such a statement frustrating. Even the popular, parody formula of 'kill the monster, take the treasure' is irritating. The real 'elder' formula is probably something akin to: go into the dark, be prepared to defend the lives of your party members, and try to garner some kind of reward for your bravery. WG4 is definitely in the vein of 'exploration' gaming, as if Gygax wrote a coda to a symphony that began many years prior with the first writing of The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth in 1976. After our careful readings, it seems that Gygax came 'full circle' - and to examine why probably takes us out of the text, and Greyhawk, and into the trials and tribulations of TSR.
- Area 19: I think a lot about the gems and the missing #19. I wish I could give a concrete answer, or even a really good suggestion. I have a feeling that #19 indicates something low to the ground - a dais or relief sculpture - perhaps a fountain or pool or some kind of magical or astronomical viewer. Perhaps a block upon which creatures or gems are crushed or inset. The Chapel already has an Altar - is it a dais, or chair? A pew or kneeler of some kind? There is, of course, the possibility that the map just has an extra numbered area that was unintended.
- The Gems: I'm wondering if the gems - the really good ones, of course (only 5-8 of them) - are somehow consumed or crushed or dissolved in something in order to do something. The Introduction mentions the gems - a hook to draw the players, yet the entire module seems to almost 'punish' greed - and they really aren't mentioned again until they're found deep in the Black Cyst's 'secret stash'. It seems there should be at least one more area that involves the gems, as they don't really have a 'trick' associated with them - and they should. The horn, and the gems, really should bear some kind of curse - but they don't. The Legendary 333 Gems of Tharizdun should have a lot more... story to them. Given that even water dedicated to the memory of the Dark God can cause drama, it seems appropriate that taking the Sacred Gems should have some kind of consequence.
- The Lament: The text refers to 'a later revelation' to clarify what the book really does. It's nasty effects on those reading it indicate it's powerful in the sense of Artifact/Relic magic. What we don't know if it is merely a powerful book, or a case of inlibration - the physical manifestation of a deity in the form of a book. Is the harm caused by reading it a product of its 'cursed' state - the Greyhawk deities have cursed this item?
- The Filigreed Rod: The four-part idol's 'blue' idol - dedicated to Mages, has a feature on it held by the statues hands: 'where they must meet projects a strange device, possibly a sceptre with a convoluted end and many filigreed sections'. This item is not mentioned anywhere else. Filigreed means intricate and detailed - a scepter with many sections. Is this akin to the 'tentacle rods' of the Elder Elemental God in the G-D-Q series? More importantly, was this unnamed scepter - in the hands of a mage's statue - important to Tharizdun and the history of the Temple? This single item, which is nowhere in the Temple, could validate theories about the Cult or Tharizdun. In my head I can see the Filigreed Scepter brought to whatever lay at Area 19 to commit some kind of action - communing with the Dark God, or perhaps having Artifact-level power - perhaps a Scepter of Force, ten times the ability of the Wand of Force? The Cult's Secret Weapon? Raiders of the Lost Ark was released in 1981 - was the Filigreed Scepter to be used like a Staff of Ra in the movie?
Back to the module... Of all the 'classic' modules, this one is unique for three reasons:
- The Temple was old even when the Apache tribes found it. Cutter's crew was after gold or diamonds - they weren't afraid to face off against a bear or a nest of snakes, but really weren't up to Indian trouble - the tribal frictions always threated the lucrative trade in the Northwest. The Indians riding off seemed strangely happy to hand over what they presented as a treasure map. Cutter knew they had plenty of provisions, but had never gone that far into the mountains on what might be a wild goose chase for nothing. Still, an ancient, abandoned temple... at least it would be a safe place to hide out...
[Boot Hill Module NW4 - Mountain Temple Madness]
- Brix hated these recon missions. Siberia was a cradle for way too many nukes before it all hit the fan. You could still see huge chunks that looked eaten from mountain sides from chain reactions. All that glowing garbage set off for nothing. The advance team came over the radio - they found another bunker. Hopefully, whatever mutants were there were just bones, and they might be able to get some valuable supplies or ammo out of the dump. They said this wasn't like the other ones - they didn't find an access tunnel - and the upper part looked like it was volcanic stone that somehow survived whatever blasted away half a hill...
[Gamma World Module GWX4 - The Uncovered Midnight]
- There's no sexual content at all. There are 'cult' ideas in it, for certain, and labelling it as for 'mature readers' could've forestalled critics who felt D&D was harmful in regard to 'cult concerns' or the dreaded 'satanic panics'. No one could have attacked TSR for harming kids if the materials in the premium 'set' weren't sellable to minors. None of these needed to replace the 'youth-friendly' lines of materials, but TSR might've gained a lot by maintaining a difference between 'toy store D&D' and 'grown up D&D'.
- TSR could've had a press release/promotional copy that introduced the 'premium' modules in smaller print runs at higher prices. For you Old Schoolers out there: think about how much you paid for it back then, and whether a couple more bucks would've made a difference. Speaking only for myself, I might've paid a lot more for modules that were 'limited series', particulary those for Greyhawk. The strategy of 'reach more readers', in retrospect, seems to have exaggerated the operational 'problems of scale' that caused a lot of problems for TSR.
- It wasn't going to be a big seller, but it could've 'broken ground' for other 'mature reader' modules that were guaranteed big sellers... like the long awaited T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil. Imagine what that module would've been like if not bound by 'toy store' conventions.
- Given that the main elements of this module are drawn from pulp science fantasy - well known among older players of that time - would 'special editions' or 'limited runs' have been more marketable as collectors' items right from the start to a subset of the main customer base - particularly to those older players more connected to the source material?
- By TSR cultivating this 'mature' set of modules, it might have built up a sizeable portfolio of intellectual property that would've been easier to transition or adapt to other media. You can picture a movie version of WG4 in your head, right?
What? What joke did Mr. Gygax perpetrate on us? Before I make a personal signoff, and turn my attention to potential uses, modifications and plot lines, I thought you might want to know. Mr. Gygax is still one step ahead of us. Even now.
Mr. Bloch's Greyhawk Lore mentions that Mr. Gygax had a sense of humor, so here goes:
- Count the total number of times the word 'Tharizdun' is mentioned across the whole module.
- Subtract the Cover and Front Page - those are put there in production and weren't part of Mr. Gygax's manuscript.
- From the beginning of the notorious Introduction to (but not including the Gygaxian end words 'THUS ENDS...') the Dark God's name appears 33 times.
Rest in peace, Mr. Gygax.
We Will Seed The Future With Your Dreams.
- Tharizdun was mortal, a very skilled planar traveller and builder capable of seducing mages into the creation of a sacrificial cult - think Chariots of the Gods and Jim Jones. The Temple and the Cult are all a tremendous and elaborate scam.
- Tharizdun wasn't truly imprisoned as much as he was frozen in time. If characters could stay long enough in the Black Cyst, they will notice that they do not age...
- The Black Cyst IS Tharizdun - he is a planar 'phenomenon'. The idols were the cult's attempt to humanize this strange 'event' that swirled in the Black Cyst, which was some kind of a seed from space.
- Tharizdun was a deity of forces - heat, energy, more alchemic/physical force was his concern, and the other deities feared that he would bring technology, machines, and weapons to Oerth... Imagine a 'dark, atomic, god of alchemists'.
- The entire Temple is Tharizdun's chief manifestation, and the Black Cyst was its 'heart'...
- Tharizdun wasn't imprisoned, but chose stasis instead of confrontation with the Greyhawk Gods. Some day he may awaken, perhaps without even knowing what he is, and completely unaware that his worshipping Cult is no more. The Introduction 'story' is merely a fairy tale.
- Tharizdun is an entirely extra-dimensional being, and not a deity in the strictest sense. The Black Cyst's Form on the Block is merely his point of entry. He has 'doorways' on every world in the Prime Material Plane - think Hellraiser...
- Tharizdun's cult was initially of good alignment, and simply worshipped the Darkness. His insatiable hunger for power over natural forces, which he required to sustain himself on Oerth, enraged Pelor and Pholtus, who encysted him in the mountain not to contain him, but to starve him...
- Tharizdun was initially a figure akin to the Master of the Wild Hunt, roaming the lush mountainous regions of the Yatils at night, the ultimate Father of the Nocturnal Predator. The actions of mages (Tsojcanth?) toying with planar gateways and the forces of nature disrupted him - splitting him across worlds while opening more dangerous dimensions. The mountains around the Temple were once lush with life, and as the Cult's traditions of the Dark Hunt continued, inevitably the region became barren, and so human sacrifices were employed and refined...
- Tharizdun as a kind of 'hyper-natural' phenomenon - think Lovecraft's Colour Out of Space or Azathoth - that makes things smarter, faster, better, and then devours them.
- Tharizdun as Father of Darkness - giving the gift of sight in the night time, and strength to the weak. He makes those who are afraid brave against the night... for a price.
- The Gems must be consumed by a magical dais or apparatus to commune with Tharizdun - the greed of the Cultists eventually caused them to pilfer the only means of potentially communing or freeing him. The Gems each contain a fraction of his essence - whatever imprisoned him left only these treasures behind.
- In place of the Dark God, the Temple could be dedicated to another deity, or could be a tomb to a great wizard or priest.
- The Temple offers a gateway to the faithful to the 'home world' of the strange cultists. Imagine the look on heroes faces if they make it to the Black Cyst, go to exit the Temple and find themselves in another world...
- The Temple exists simultaneously in several worlds - operating the Gems in the Sacred Wheel (area 19) caused it to 'phase in' to other worlds - akin to the doorway in Howl's Moving Castle.
- Tharizdun is imprisoned by strong magical powers that don't have a 'key', they exist conditionally until the 'end of time' - a powerful enough Mage could cast Time Stop on the Form on the Block and release or activate Tharizdun.
My personal favorite 'alternate mod' is the following one, which brings WG4 in alignment with the G-D-Q Elder Elemental God. I'm sure it's not what Mr. Gygax had in mind, but it fits in a certain way and 'only' requires that Tharizdun is not a deity...
- The Temple and the Cult initially were dedicated to the Elder Elemental God, and the core cultists arrived here as refugees of a darker, more savage world. Tharizdun was a giant that many of the travellers saw as a demigod - a powerful mage-priest and master builder. Here on Oerth, they could reign supreme and built their Temple to serve the desire for conquest that the Elder Elemental God cherished.
- Eventually, Tharizdun's pride would make him lure the other travellers to worship of him, and the Elder Elemental God punished his pride by taking him away from the cult. Tharizdun would be eternally cursed, but have his wishes granted: the Temple originally dedicated to the Elder Elemental God would worship Tharizdun, but be forgotten in time. Tharizdun wished to be adored on an altar, and the Elder Elemental God would grant his wish - Tharizdun would rest upon an altar forever. The gifts of Darksight and the power of the Sacred Gems and Scepter of Worlds would be taken away. Tharizdun's passion and pride would be cooled forever, and his desire to be master of the mountain would be rewarded by being entombed within it in a Darkened Cyst that could only be found by his traitorous inner circle.
- Tharizdun's final punishment was to be mocked by history with the story that other gods had imprisoned him.
- The Elder Elemental God, of course, would find other 'children' on Oerth who wouldn't be so swayed by a single leader and who might bear more hatred and conquest in their hearts - a determination to punish those of the surface world. In a final mockery of the great, massive warrior mage Tharizdun, these new servants of the Elder Elemental God would employ giants to use for their terrible plans, and could wreak havoc among the traitorous humans that served and betrayed the Elder Elemental God so long ago.
- Without any knowledge of its real dangers, the gnomes in the Vale are sending the characters to root out the Temple with their own agena - to get rid of the norkers so they can have the Temple for themselves - particularly a chance to uncover those Gems...